Gender Games

From Spain, Japan, and the Downtown Hinterlands

Whether the title is meant to evoke the structure of milk or play a word game with prophylactic seems immaterial; in any case, it gives no clue to what happens. It's possible to imagine that the piece originated not in ideas about movement, structure, or theme, but in a vision of collaged clothing, pink chairs, and hair. In the terrific opening, blue snakes emerge creepily from a mountain of wigs (they're the arms of a completely concealed performer). At the end, Lara sits Nelson down, drapes him like a beauty parlor customer, and begins pinning little brown objects to the fabric (tiny limbs? penises? curious desert plants?). In between, other images of self-decoration occur. Gabriela Solini attempts to manipulate a figure blinded by a smoothly pretty silver mask topped with a hairdo of beige rolls. Two empty chairs converse about such topics as the danger of bad nose jobs (tape recorders strapped underneath speak in alto voices with valley-girl intonation).

The dancers sometimes project an asleep-on-their-feet air, like people waiting for a bus; at other times, they're strenuous, bustling, and faintly hostile. Two bewigged figures in white bouffant skirts advance on each other with drills whirring. Douglas Henderson's music— coming in bursts, its industrial-sci-fi ambience pitted with long silences— underscores the oddities. The expert dancers (including Luciana Achugar, Maria Hassabi, Anna-Sofia Kallinikidou, and Antonio Ramos) engage in multiple variations of musical chairs on pink wooden ones adorned with fur booties. Lara and Nelson tangling on a chair! Nelson and Solini duetting on two chairs with Lara underneath moving them!

Somewhere, buried under the trimmings, a structure lurks; somewhere, a theme. But as the eye- catching events keep spawning similar ones mixed with spicy non sequiturs, I despair of finding them.

The biggest gender game in town is also the oldest. At Japan Society, two experts in Kabuki dance heighten reality through artificiality. In Kusazuri Biki, Nakamura Kannojo plays in the blustery, hyper-male style known as aragoto. He needs to get into a banquet where his brother is embroiled in a quarrel. Because he's such a stamping hothead, a court lady tries to hold him back. She's all wiles, and, weak as she is, her delicate tugs on his kimono or fancy armor give him pause. And this strength-in-weakness character is played by a man, Nakamura Kyozo. In Ninin Wankyu, the same actor plays a man dancing with a vision of the courtesan whom family honor decrees he may not have. But the magnificent Kyozo performs in the wagoto style suitable to sad young men, with more than a trace of the classic feminine in his mournful gestures. At one point he and Matsuyama (Nakamura Shijaku) don each other's outer garments as an indication of erotic intimacy. A vision we think of as contemporary appears cloaked in silks from centuries ago and miles away.

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